Robert Browning was an English poet and playwright known for his mastery of dramatic verse. His dramatic monologues made him one of the most outstanding Victorian poets. He is also known for short poems like “Rabbi Ben Ezra”, “How they brought the good News to Aix”, “Evelyn Hope”, “The Pied Piper of Hammelin”, “A Grammarian's Funeral”, “A Death in the Desert”. His poetry style appeared modern and experimental to Victorian readers, but was influenced by seventeenth century poems of John Donne and as such, had abrupt openings, colloquial phrasing and irregular rhythms. Browning was also awarded with many distinctions during his lifetime. He was appointed L.L.D. of Edinburgh, a life Governor of London University, and was offered the Lord Rectorship of Glasgow. His other important works were, “The Ring and the Book”, “Fifine at the Fair”, “Red Cotton Night-Cap Country” and “Parleyings with Certain People of Importance In Their Day”.
Robert Browning Childhood and Early Life
Robert Browning was born on May 7, 1812 in Camberwell, London. His parents were Robert and Sarah Anna Browning. His father was a clerk in the Bank of England, while his mother was a talented musician. He had a sibling, a sister named Sarianna. His father was an avid literary collector and had a collection of over 6000 book, including some rare ones. As such, junior Robert came in contact with literature at an early age. His sister was also talented and accompanied her brother in studying literature in later years. Both the children received ample encouragement from their father to study arts and literature. By the age of twelve, Robert had written a poetry book, but couldn’t publish it, due to the absence of a publisher for the book. He studied in couple of schools, but had not much interest in school life. Eventually, his father allowed him to be educated at home, where a tutor was assigned to teach him with the resources available in the library. By the time Robert Browning reached fourteen, he was fluent in French, Greek, Italian and Latin. He also became an ardent admirer of the Romantic poets, especially Shelley. In the year 1828, he was enrolled at University College London where he studied Greek. His mother was a firm believer of evangelical faith and didn’t allow her son to be studied at either of Oxford University or Cambridge University; both then open only to members of the Church of England. So, he had to leave the college after one year. From his mother, Browning inherited significant music abilities and composed arrangements of various songs. Robert refused to have a formal career to entirely focus on his poetic career. His family supported him well and he remained at the home until he was married. Browning also traveled widely, accompanying a British diplomatic mission to Russia in 1834, later traveling to Italy 1838 and 1844.
Robert Browning started his career with writing an anonymous poem, “Pauline” which disappeared without making any notice. Another poem, “Paracelsus”, which was about the renowned doctor and alchemist,Philip von Hohenheim, didn’t receive general popularity. But it was critically acclaimed by Thomas Carlyle, Wordsworth and other known poets, hence making him a distinguishable name in poetic circle of the London city. He also acquainted with other famous names like Charles Dickens, John Forster, Harriet Martineau and William Charles Macready. William Macready even encouraged him to write the play “Strafford”, which was performed by Macready and Helen Faucit in 1837. Though the play didn’t receive much attention, Browning decided to write more plays nevertheless. In following years, he wrote eight plays which included “Pippa Passes” (1841), “A Blot on the Scutcheon” (1843) and “Soul's Tragedy” (1846). In this period, he also wrote an experimental and politically radical long poem “Sordello” (1840), which received widespread derision. Tennyson criticized the poem heavily, hence destroying Browning’s reputation for several years. In 1845, Browning met the poet Elizabeth Barrett, who lived in her father's house in Wimpole Street, London. After dating each other for a while they eventually married on September 12, 1846. They had to keep the marriage a secret as Elizabeth’s father was against the marriage of his children. Later, she was disinherited by his father.
Browning insisted Barrett to included love sonnets in the second edition of her poetry. Her poetry met with success and received critical acclaim, positioning her as an eminent Victorian poet. In 1849, his only child, Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning was born. When William Wordsworth's died in 1850, Elizabeth was considered a serious contender to become the Poet Laureate, but the position eventually went to Tennyson. Since his marriage, Browning was living in Italy, first in Pisa, and then at an apartment in Florence at Casa Guidi. He was fascinated by the art and literature of Italy and described the city as his university. Later, he bought a home in Asolo, in the Veneto outside Venice. Robert and his wife lived their life happily and comfortably, with the help of considerable amount of money which Elizabeth inherited. Robert’s literary career was still having downturn as he was receiving constant criticism from patrician writers such as Charles Kingsley. While living in Florence, he wrote poems which later constituted his two-volume “Men and Women”. In 1861, after the death of Elizabeth, Robert returned to England. Post working for five years, he published the long blank-verse poem, “The Ring and the Book” which was based on a convoluted murder-case from 1690s Rome. The massive poem was composed of twelve books, including ten lengthy dramatic poems narrated by the various characters in the story, hence showing their individual perspectives on events. This book was Robert’s most ambitious and greatest work. It was admired as a tour de force of dramatic poetry and was published separately in four volumes from November 1868 through to February 1869. The poem met with both financial and critical success, which Browning was yearning for past forty years.
In the later phase of his life, Robert Browning traveled widely. In the early 1870s, he published a series of long poems which included the famous, “Fifine at the Fair” and “Red Cotton Night-Cap Country”. In his works, “Pacchiarotto” and “How He Worked in Distemper”, he attacked on his critics, especially the Poet Laureate Alfred Austin. He returned to Italy in 1878, seventeen years after his wife’s death and revisited it on several occasions. In 1887, Browning produced his major work, “Parleyings with Certain People of Importance In Their Day”, in which he finally spoke in his own voice and included a series of dialogues with long-forgotten figures of literary, artistic, and philosophic history. In the last days of his life, Browning published his last volume, “Asolando”.
Robert Browning married the poet Elizabeth Barrett on September 12, 1846. They had a child named Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning. She died in 1861.
Robert Browning died at his son's home Ca' Rezzonico in Venice on December 12, 1889. He was buried in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.